Monday, January 06, 2014

Coptic Church suspended between fear and hope this Christmas

Egypt's Copts celebrate Christmas on 7 JanuaryLast year was Tawadros’ Christmas: he had just been elected Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Twelve months have passed since then and it has been a tough time for Egypt. 

The country’s armed forces are back at the helm, many have died during the demonstrations staged by the Muslim Brotherhood and churches across the country have been left scarred by the wave of Islamist attacks last August. 

So as the Coptic community prepares to celebrate Christmas tomorrow (7 January) it finds itself suspended between the fear of fresh violence and the hope of beginning a new chapter.

The confrontation between General al Sisi and the Islamists has worsened to a truly worrying degree in recent days after the government’s decision to officially outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood. 

More people have died taking to the streets, renewing the Copts’ fear that they will be easy targets for those who hold them “responsible” for the military coup that overthrew President Morsi last July in the wake of the people’s protests. Mr. Morsi is still in prison now. 

The military promised to tighten security around Coptic churches during the Christmas period. Particularly as Christmas is being celebrated just a week ahead of an all-important constitutional referendum, due to be held on 14 and 15 January. 

Egyptians will vote on an amended version of the Constitution, which changes some of the most contested articles introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood and is going to be an important test bed for post-Islamist Egypt.
The Copts are well aware of what is at stake here. “We carry a heavy and painful legacy, with many who died having fallen victim to violence,” wrote Joussef Sifhom, editor-in-chief of Christian weekly Watani, in his Christmas editorial. “Still, it is not the same thing as being trapped in a tunnel with no escape route - as Egypt had become under the Islamists – and trying to get out of this tunnel to move on, with terrorists continuously placing obstacles along the way.”

The most important Christmas celebration in Cairo will be the midnight liturgy in St. Mark’s cathedral. Egypt’s interim President, Adil Mansour, and Prime Minister Hazem el Beblawy have been invited to attend. 

On 1 January, Pope Tawadros met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who extended his wishes to Egypt’s Christians together with the Grand Mufti Shawky Allam. This was made all the more significant by the fact that Al-Azhar has always been a battleground between its moderate leaders and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

“Let us ask God to make this year a new year in all senses," Pope Tawadros told the Grand Imam. "May this year be full of goodness and peace for the whole of Egypt. May God grant leaders wisdom to govern the country and peace to all peoples.” 

As regards the referendum on the Egyptian Constitution, Pope Tawadros said he hoped it would reflect the country as every citizen would like it to. He added that the Coptic Church “will do all that it can to ensure a united Egypt.”

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